Three keys for Cardinals in NLDS Game 3

Three keys for Cardinals in NLDS Game 3

LOS ANGELES -- Eager to play the first of two home games in this National League Division Series, the Cardinals will be looking to take back control of the best-of-five series behind John Lackey in Game 3 on Monday on FOX Sports 1. History suggests this will be a pivotal game, too, as teams that have gone ahead 2-1 in the NLDS have won the series 18 of 22 times.

Here are three keys for the Cardinals as they look to regain the series momentum:

Early offense: The Cardinals showed some moxie late in Games 1 and 2, but they also forced themselves to play from behind because of their inability to string hits together early. Of the 12 runs the Cardinals have scored in this series, only two have come before the seventh inning.

On Monday, they will be facing a starter (Hyun-Jin Ryu) who hasn't pitched since Sept. 12 because of an injured left shoulder. It's not unreasonable to think that Ryu will have to shake some rustiness early, and that's when the Cardinals need to capitalize. The Cardinals won 77 of the 82 games they played this season in which they led heading into the seventh. They've yet to enjoy that luxury in this series.

  Date   Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   STL 10, LAD 9 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   LAD 3, STL 2 video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   STL 3, LAD 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   STL 3, LAD 2 video

Vintage Lackey: These sorts of games are precisely why general manager John Mozeliak pulled the trigger on a Trade Deadline deal to land Lackey in July. His postseason resume is lengthy and impressive, as he's allowed three runs or fewer in 12 of his 16 career playoff starts. He's also won each of his last two DS starts.

Lackey has strong career numbers against the Dodgers (5-3 with a 1.93 ERA in 10 starts) and has the boost of finishing the regular season strong. After dealing with some fatigue in early September, the Cardinals built in extra rest for the veteran right-hander, who then returned and limited opponents to three runs on 11 hits over 14 1/3 innings. He will be pitching on 11 days' rest when he takes the mound on Monday.

Shutdown relief: The Cardinals' path to a division title this year was lined with one- and two-run games -- and so far the postseason has offered more of the same. The club's ability to be so successful in close games was in large part credit to the bullpen, particularly the stability at the back end.

There have been some hiccups, though, already this series, with Pat Neshek shouldering the loss in Game 2 and the Dodgers scoring once off Carlos Martinez, Randy Choate and Trevor Rosenthal in Game 1. With the expectation of another close affair in Game 3, the Cardinals need that corps to be better. If so, they should have the edge over the Dodgers' bullpen.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.